The battle for the top spot in the Indian luxury car market between German rivals BMW and Audi may see another turn of events this year. After taking over from Mercedes in 2009, BMW seems to be going off the boil even as Audi gains momentum. The climax stage has arrived faster than anticipated. The rivalry between the two manufacturers’ entry level compact SUVs — X1 and Q3 — is likely to decide which way the wind blows. Aware that the first mover advantage is gone, BMW has given a mid-life facelift to the X1 even as the Q3 gears up for local production and better supplies. The introduction of luxury compact cars later this year will spice up the mix. But for now, this is where the action is — a fact even Mercedes concedes.
The better looker?
From the outside, the changes in the new X1 are microscopic. The car retains its un-SUV like stance and is similar in dimensions to the outgoing model. Closer scrutiny reveals sharper headlamps and halogen lights in some variants. The longer bonnet, kidney shaped grille and an overall aggressive stance is typical BMW. Similarly, the Q3 is also a typical Audi. So much so that from some quarters it is difficult to distinguish it from its bigger sibling Q5. That may not work very well for the latter, but a Q3 owner won’t mind. With an eye to please all, the Q3 is a more rounded package. It looks and feels bigger than the X1, with better road presence. But the X1’s snout and rough edges give it a character the Q3’s adherence to convention doesn’t.
For a compact vehicle that measures only 4.4 metres, how much space can be had? Only for four. Squeezing in a fifth is not impossible in either but in vehicles that promise luxury and comfort, not desirable either. BMW has made the new X1 more appealing by throwing in wood finish and navigation. And the navigation works well. What does not is the space at the back. The seats are lower than in the Q3 and give you a crouching position. This jeopardises the actual extra room available at the back — X1 has a longer wheelbase and a marginally shorter boot so the extra inches are for the rear passenger. It’s difficult to differentiate the two elsewhere. Like everything German, the quality of material, choice of fabric, fit and finish and attention to detail remain top notch.
There is no new engine in the X1. The petrol one has been discontinued. But the existing one has been made more efficient by a generous spattering of technology. Take the EcoPro mode that claims to increase fuel economy by upto 15% by optimising acceleration, gear changes and air conditioning. And, it also shows how many kilometers have been added by driving responsibly. There is also regenerative braking that utilises energy lost when you decelerate and start stop technology that shuts the engine while idling to save fuel — so the X1 is now significantly more fuel economical. There are improvements in steering and suspension as well. The latter has been refined to take away the jerkiness of the earlier model. The X1 is the driver’s car between the two. Off-roading? Neither can tackle sand dunes, or slush. But if it comes to that, you have a way better chance in the Q3. The patented Quattro technology works better in supplying power to the wheels. It has better ride quality and its lighter steering is hassle free for city driving.
It is customary for manufacturers to add more features, introduce new engines or update their vehicles when they are given a refresh. With the X1, BMW has done two of these. The petrol variant gone, the entry level X1 is more expensive than the outgoing one. But, it is still the cheapest BMW that can be had, as also a much improved car. Better fuel economy, more features, reasonably cool to look at and rides and handles well.
Is it better than the Q3? Not entirely. The X1 is a car a driver will love but a passenger may not. There is grunt, power and adrenalin rush. The Q3 ticks more boxes with more style, space and better off-roading capabilities. Take your pick.